Nigeria files lawsuit against Pfizer

Pfizer sign

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: I mentioned records. The Dow set another one today

 The S&P 500 finally topped it's dot-com high, too. Shares in Pfizer slipped about half a percent. We learned today the world's biggest drug maker is facing criminal charges in Nigeria.

They're related to a 1996 clinical trial. The company's accused in the deaths of children who received an unapproved antibiotic. A separate civil lawsuit is seeking more than two billion dollars in damages, as Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.


JEFF TYLER: The Nigerian lawsuit alleges that Pfizer researchers did not get consent from the children's families. It goes on to suggest that company officials knew that the drug in question — called Trovan — can have life-threatening side-effects.

Though the clinical trial took place more than 10 years ago, Nigerian officials say they waited until now because they only recently learned details through a series of stories in The Washington Post.

The issues here are not isolated to Africa.

SONIA SHAH: Studies do show that in developing countries, informed and voluntary consent is often not met, sort of on a routine basis.

That's Sonia Shah, author of "The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World's Poorest Patients."

SHAH: There's very few patients in the Western markets these days that are willing to be experimental subjects for clinical trials. In developing countries, where people don't have as good access to health care, they're much more willing to line up for these clinical trials.

Pfizer, in a statement to The Washington Post, said it thinks it did nothing wrong. The company adds that the 1996 clinical study was conducted with the full knowledge of the Nigerian government.

So, could the negative PR hurt the company?

Heather Brilliant is a senior equity analyst with Morningstar.

HEATHER BRILLIANT: People could be concerned that drug companies, including Pfizer, were doing this on a more wide-spread basis. I do not expect that will come out of this case at all.

Brilliant doesn't expect the case will hurt the company's bottom line.

BRILLIANT: Ultimately, I don't think it will have a very significant impact on Pfizer.

Pfizer did not respond to requests for an interview prior to deadline.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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